The paperless tenancy – why and how to cut out paper from social housing offices

Before I joined MRI as a Product Manager, I worked as a housing officer as part of front-line service delivery in the social housing sector. During that time, I gained a wealth of experience in most areas of the job – I would visit properties, deal with anti-social behaviour cases, carry out void inspections, and manage the re-letting of properties.  

One abiding memory I have of that time is the hours at work I spent carrying files, folders, and papers around with me- there was a piece of paper for everything.  

I remember always writing in pencil because pens didn’t work as well in the rain. I would be speaking to tenants and colleagues while simultaneously shuffling papers and struggling to keep them all in order, for the route around the estate. My back would ache after long weeks of carrying large ring binders back and forth from the office.  

Nowadays, the social housing sector is moving towards embracing more digital alternatives to the vast amounts of paperwork I used to deal with, but it’s still trailing behind private-sector landlords. COVID-19 has compelled many organisations to move to more hybrid models of working, meaning that the amount of paper in offices has reduced significantly, and initiatives such as the Government energy efficiency targets are raising ‘green’ to the top of the agenda. However, it’s still commonplace for housing officers to take paper out to visits, write up their notes, and then return to the office or home to type those up.  

As well as being inconvenient, the amount of paperwork being carried around presents several risks for organisations as a whole. 

Many documents housing officers store personal information including contact details and financial records, posing a significant threat to data security and GDPR risk. 

In addition to these risks, carrying large amounts of paper can hamper officers’ abilities to connect with tenants and move unburdened around properties and estates, affecting the quality of the work they are able to do.  

Time spent travelling to the office to collect papers, and returning to type up notes, represents considerable inefficiencies within a housing officer’s workflow, not to mention the added cost of travel. 

Organisations rely on copies being made in case any of the paperwork is lost, or lose the document forever, and dealing with a lot of paper presents obstacles to meeting environmental targets. 

 Moving towards a paperless office, therefore, promises benefits and mitigates the risks associated with paper-based working. 

A paperless tenancy 

At MRI we’ve created a number of solutions to make a paperless office a more efficient, streamlined working environment. Key areas that social housing organisations should consider are document management systems, mobile working, and customer communications.  

Document Management  

Managing papers and physical files not only costs time and increases the risk of documents going missing or being misfiled but also takes up large areas of office and storage space that can be used more productively. As a housing officer, I remember looking at all our filing and thinking there had to be a better way. 

  • A digital filing system with secure access 
    Digitally storing documents means that you can access files quickly and easily, control access to sensitive information, and provide clear audit trails for data management compliance. With MRI Document Management, you can create a folder structure and set up a digital file for each property and tenancy. If you’re producing anything from the system being sent to the customer, or if customers send something to you, there’s a house file for the tenancy which replaces physically stored papers.
     
  • Backed up and audited 
    Additionally, house file cleansing is now a digital process, so no need for secondary storage. Files are backed up so they can’t be lost, and the retention policy automatically cleanses documents. Documents stored digitally with MRI Document Management can include an audit trail of who has accessed each file, meaning enhanced security over who can access sensitive tenant information, and no need to deal with shredding or secure incineration.
     
  • Ease of access
    Documents are accessible by authorised parties from anywhere, meaning flexible, mobile, and hybrid working can happen seamlessly, without the need for housing officers to spend time collecting and returning papers from the office. 

Mobile working 

Digitising the paperwork that needs to be done on-site during inspections, visits, and viewings with MRI Mobile working solutions means that housing officers can create their own form and save it as a PDF to store in the digital document management system. 

As a housing officer, I used to print 40-50 pieces of paper for each tenancy agreement, as they would include benefits forms, furniture packs, and other important information for customers. Digitising this, as well as enabling digital signatures using MRI Secure Sign, means that customers can sign their agreement anywhere, without the need to organise a meeting room or carry out a visit to get a signature. You can even bring it up on a tablet and have the tenant sign on the spot after viewing. 

With a link to the digital document storage system and property management systems, back-office systems are updated in real-time, meaning housing officers no longer need to return to the office to input data or type up notes. If there’s a signal, the mobile solution will feedback to the central system to keep it up to date.  

Another advantage of this is improved customer service. If a housing officer is asked a question by a tenant while out on a visit, the officer can access the information they need instantly, leaving the days of saying “we’ll get back to you about that” in the past. This allows the time that housing officers spend with customers to be more meaningful, and productive, and enables them to provide real support.  

Customer Communication

On average, the cost of sending a physical letter to a customer is £15, and statistics show that most social housing tenants will receive several notices during their tenancy, from service charge statements to rent statements and rent demands (even for small amounts due on their rent). Digitalising this process using SMS, WhatsApp, or customer portal features with a direct link to the payment portal means a huge cost-saving, as well as a more effective method of collecting unpaid charges. MRI Communications Manager solution really came into its own in covid-19 during lockdown when f2f was not an option. Reaching out by text is used by landlords to reach out not just about rent collection, but to help with services and support during the difficult periods of lockdown. 

Self-service portals allow customers to manage their own tenancies without the need to contact their housing provider for information. This disintermediation or closing of the gap between the user and your service empowers your customers to access their own data, at their preferred time.  No longer restricting access to your services to standard office hours or busy phone lines. They’re able to request support directly rather than waiting on hold using a form on your organisation’s website or a chatbot. 

Solutions working in the real world  

These paperless solutions sound nice in theory, but the reality is, that the challenges for providers in the ‘real world’ are that they are dealing with legacy systems, disparate data, and restricted budgets. So how can the journey to paperless become a reality?  

MRI’s paperless solutions work across multiple third-party housing solutions, bringing decades of sector experience built upon our heritage in these solution areas.  We have broad experience in seamlessly integrating our solutions into organisations’ ecosystems.  Enabling the quick adoption of the products and services we offer, to allow a rapid return on investment in terms of cost and efficiencies.  Our expectation isn’t revolution but evolution, working at a pace that suits our customers, adapting our strategies to assist them in achieving theirs. Improving performance by eliminating paper 

Paperless working makes the lives of housing officers easier and more effective in multiple ways and improves the outcomes they’re able to deliver for residents.  

Customer service is improved via self-service and streamlined processes leaving officers more time to spend with those who are isolated and vulnerable. Remote and hybrid working models can be more easily implemented, meaning more satisfied housing officers. 

From the point of view of the housing organisation, striving for a paperless office whilst tackling numerous other objectives, too. MRI can remove some or all of that burden, with less paper, green objectives can be more easily met, as well as reduced costs for paper and printing not to mention the assurance that GDPR regulations are being met.

At MRI, we’re constantly developing our products in response to our customers’ suggestions and needs. To find out more about how our solutions could help you achieve paperless working, get in touch today or download our Quick Reference solutions guide  

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